Strange days

Nobody told me there’d be days like these.
Strange days indeed…strange days indeed.
 —John Lennon

*It is the middle of winter at 9,000 feet in the Rocky Mountains and the temperatures early this week were in the 40s.
*At least two letters in this issue of the Crested Butte News touch on what may be described as an uncertain local economy. One writer describes mulling over his tax bill and having a brain freeze. Amen. The other suggests tapping federal stimulus funds to pave Kebler and Cottonwood passes to make it easier for potential tourists to get here.
*Without much in-depth discussion, the Crested Butte Town Council touched on business assistance topics at their meeting on Monday night. That in itself is a bit strange. Council briefly talked about ideas such as taking a sales tax holiday, supporting revolving business loans and encouraging Elk Avenue rents to come down.
*Walking between the post office and the Town Hall on a spring-like Monday afternoon, I engaged in a couple of conversations that included comments like “We are hanging on by our fingernails.” And, “That restaurant on Elk Avenue is closing. Who will be next?” Or, “I feel good just being 20 percent down in January.”
*Crested Butte sales tax was down 11 percent in December.
*Last year at about this time, the employment section of the News classifieds advertised 40 job openings that needed to be filled. Ski instructors, managers, carpenters and cooks were all in demand. This past week there were a slim eight employment ads, and two of them were for non-profit organizations looking for people to help raise money.

There is a lot of angst out there. It isn’t pretty. Are there too many people for the number of dollars coming into town? Will there be a shakeout?

As the world economy seems to crumble, how will the ripples touch this little haven in the mountains? There is at least a bit of action out there. Crested Butte is getting in line for some of the federal stimulus money for infrastructure improvements. The ski area continues to inch toward more skiing possibilities on Snodgrass with a thought to bring in more tourists. The school expansion projects will likely bring in people and some jobs to the valley. Maybe more communication between the elected officials and economic engines like the ski area and the college could be helpful.

But there is one thing I am pretty sure of… a molybdenum mine on Red Lady wouldn’t have helped. In fact, it could likely have made things worse at this juncture. Thompson Creek Metals Company now controls the moly deposit in Mount Emmons. Here is the shape they are in according to the company literature and various business websites.

*Canada’s Thompson Creek Metals Co Inc (TCM.TO) said it will reduce molybdenum production in 2009 and halt mining activities for a month, citing lower demand and unfavorable market conditions.
*In addition, Thompson Creek said, it is planning a temporary shutdown for about a month this summer in mining activity at both the Thompson Creek and Endako mines.
*In December, the company slashed its 2009 capital spending forecast to $69 million, down from prior view of $300 million.
*There will be other production changes about which we [Thompson Creek] will provide details at a later date after they are decided.
*Shares of Thompson Creek, which have lost more than 60 percent of their value in the past six months, closed Monday at C$5.59 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.

So it appears that if you worked at a Mount Emmons mine right now, you would at the very least, lose a monthly paycheck… if you still had a job.
Boom and Bust.
The gas bills wouldn’t stop coming.
The mortgage would still be due.
The kids would still need to eat.
The county would still expect the taxes they budgeted for to pay for the roads.
The schools would still need the money from the mine to pay the teachers hired for expanded classrooms because a mine was opening.
Despite what Thompson Creek CEO Kevin Loughrey insinuated last fall, this doesn’t look like a stable alternative to the current recreation based economy.

If you live here for any length of time, you understand the cadence of the tourist economy. It isn’t always smooth or easy. For the most part, we have adapted to seeing our peaks and our valleys. Most residents understand that most of the money will be made over the holidays and not in May or November. There is a known rhythm. We may have thought there would be more money to make in the “on-season” but overall, we have adapted to an economy based on recreation.
There might be too many of us here at the moment so a Darwinian element is being added to the mix. That breeds more uncertainty. I know good people who are moving from the valley because of their financial situation and lack of work. It hurts this place.
We are experiencing a time of challenges—challenges enough without a boom and bust mine adding to the uncertainty.

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